Jeep’s anniversary focus connects Kiwis to their history

Jeep’s anniversary focus connects Kiwis to their history

Coverage of Jeep’s 75th anniversary featured New Zealand prime minister Peter Fraser and lieutenant-general Bernard Freyberg in a Willy’s Jeep during World War II, reconnecting Kiwis to their wartime history and the integral role Jeep played.

On an individual level, Sherryll Leeson was stunned to see the photograph of her father, driver Ted Leeson, at the wheel of the jeep when opening the paper.

“I simply could not believe it,” says Leeson. “We’d heard the stories from dad about being lieutenant-general Bernard Freyberg’s driver and how he met Peter Fraser, but we’d never seen a picture. So I discussed it with my sister, trying to work out whether it really was Dad, but when we showed the picture to our mother, she simply said, ‘That is your father!’”

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Searching through the online records, Jeep discovered that the New Zealand defence force was one of the first armies outside the US forces to be equipped with the Jeep. So early, in fact, that the official caption on that very first picture of what would become known as a Jeep describes it as an ‘American Desert Buggy’.

The New Zealand armed forces carved a reputation as being adept at delivering vital supplies and rescuing the wounded in North Africa and Italy, especially at the battle at Monte where Kiwis drove right through the ‘killing zone’ in so-called ‘ghost convoys’ of Jeeps.

Just days after the battle of Cassino was finely won, Ted Leeson was the driver of the Jeep as pictured in the photograph by George Frederick Kaye as he drove Fraser on his tour of the battlefield to thank the Kiwi troops.

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Chief executive officer of Jeep’s New Zealand importer David Smitherman says Jeep’s unique war-time record, which is tied to its inception, is important to the company as well as Kiwis’ experience of Jeep historically, which still makes the brand relevant to them today.

“We were thrilled to discover that New Zealand and Jeep have been together almost from day one of the company and its most famous car. This has been faithfully recorded by the New Zealand National Archive and the National Library of New Zealand.”

“Remarkable though this picture is, it is just one of dozens of pictures of Jeeps working with the Kiwi forces in World War Two and among thousands of pictures of the heroic actions of the Kiwis during World War Two now available from the National Library and the National Archive through their superb web sites,” says Smitherman.

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